I’ve been thinking a lot about the ‘take back control’ slogan used by the EU Leave campaign, and how it resonated with a power that Remain’s economic arguments perhaps never could. It seems to echo Ronald Reagan’s 1980 election promise to “get government off our backs”. In his Election Eve address, he articulated sentiments which the Leave Campaign would also speak into 36 years later : “many Americans today, just as they did 200 years ago, feel burdened, stifled and sometimes even oppressed by government that has grown too large, too bureaucratic, too wasteful, too unresponsive, too uncaring about people and their problems”.
Personally, I don’t think the cause of the prevalent feelings of powerlessness is the E.U., just as I don’t think it was caused in the 1980s by social welfare/ security systems in Britain or the U.S.A. I think this quotation by Paul Verhaeghe- otherwise highly critical of religion- really hits the nail on the head:
“Until recently, the West possessed a tradition of authority symbolically vested in individuals (‘Thou shalt honour thy father and thy mother’). Representatives of authority were themselves subject to the system, and could also be held accountable. These days, we live in a world where power is anonymous and cannot be localised, and therefore no longer exercises any moral authority. Much more importantly, it can also no longer be called to account.”
Being able to wag a finger only at a brand that can never hear or see. rather than put a person through the justice system, leaves me at least with directionless resentment. Sometimes we long to see repercussions rather than have reports of fraud, corruption or abuse of power lose their shock factor for being lost among piles of other headlines and Buzzfeed trivia.
Nigel Farage, for instance, refused to apologise for the ‘Breaking Point’ poster, saying he couldn’t “apologise for the truth”. The picture was in fact of migrants crossing the Croatia-Slovenia border, not the Channel- true, perhaps, but irrelevant and misleading. Later, he refused to apologise for claiming that the £350 million we would otherwise send to the EU would be used for the NHS instead if we voted Brexit. He said it was “one of the mistakes the Leave campaign made”, rather than admitting responsibility himself. Similarly, Boris Johnson said he would not apologise for a “rich thesaurus” of insults levelled at foreign leaders, despite now being Foreign Minister. It would, he said, “take too long”. And a book has recently been published called Too Big: The Mega-Banks Are Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Jail, and Too Big to Manage, suggesting that because of their vital role in our economy, corporate crime (including ‘HSBC’s global money laundering operations for tyrants and drug lords’) go insufficiently punished.
It’s common to read that someone ‘distanced themselves’ from a previous wrongdoing. Who needs ‘I’m sorry’ when you can just shrug your shoulders.
The difference with the revelation of a God who took on human form to take the punishment for the world’s sins could not be more stark.
Imagine if President Erdoğan instead of purging tens of thousands from schools, the judiciary and the armed forces, as punishment for the failed coup against him last weekend took the fall himself. (After all, questioning God’s authority is one way to think of sin). It’s that topsy-turvy.
I get why people reject a deistic God. A God who creates and then is overcome by lethargy for billions of years despite the unleashing of chaos and cruelty across that creation deserves to be held to account. Which is exactly what cannot be done to a distant, deistic God. Hence the contrast with the God who made himself known in Jesus.
It is an oft-repeated phrase: “Jesus died to pay the price for our sins”. But put it this way: God made us with freedom so that we could love truly and create and innovate and mature. Yet freedom also means the power to hate and destroy. God then held himself to account for each abuse of that freedom, each wrong choice. It was not out of regret for having created free creatures- for what loving parent ever regrets having a child when they prove to be imperfect. It was, as always God acts, out of love.
A sobering and heart-melting reminder of what authority can be used for.
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”